1 February 2013

Nigeria: Court Dismisses Tambuwal, Lawan's Objection to Otedola's Suit

An Abuja High Court has dismissed the objections filed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal and the former chairman, House Ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe, Farouk Lawan, seeking to dismiss a suit by Mr. Femi Otedola, seeking N250 billion in damages against the officers.

Otedola had asked the court to award him the said damages on the grounds that he was harassed and intimidated by the defendants and that he also suffered business losses as a result of the harassment.

Rather than dismiss the case, the trial judge, Justice Peter Kekemeke, ordered Tambuwal and Lawan to file their defence immediately.

Otedola had sued the two lawmakers claiming the sum of N250 billion as general and exemplary damages for acts of intimidation, harassment loss of goodwill, patronages, oppressive and arbitrary actions carried against him by the two defendants while allegedly demanding for $3 million bribe.

The businessman is also challenging the move by the two lawmakers to re-enlist his company among the indicted companies for subsidy scam by the Lawan committee.

Tambuwal and Lawan had objected to the hearing of Otedola's case on the ground that they were protected by legislative immunity and, therefore, cannot be taken to court for either civil or criminal matters on any of their actions on the floor of the House.

They asked the court to dismiss the suit for being too hasty because the House had not adopted the report on the subsidy probe and that there had been no White Paper yet on it.

The two defendants also contended that being agents of the House, they could only be sued at a Federal High Court because the House was an organ of the Federal Government and as such no Abuja High Court had jurisdiction on the suit.

In the objections argued by Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) for Tambuwal and Kehinde Ogunwumiju for Lawan, the counsel claimed that Otedola freely gave out the bribe and could not turn around to allege harassment and intimidation against himself.

Besides, the lawmakers said Otedola's case was not sustainable since he did not join the National Assembly and Clerk of the National Assembly as defendants.

But in his ruling, Justice Kekemeke upheld the submission of Chief Babajide Koku (SAN), counsel to Otedola, holding that Tambuwal and Lawan could not use legislative immunity as escape route to shield themselves from legal action for wrongful acts carried against the plaintiff outside the confinement of the House.

The judge agreed with Koku that it was not part of the terms of reference of Lawan's committee to source for bribe from anybody and as such could not hide under the immunity conferred on them while on the floor of the House to void the case.

Justice Kekemeke also refused to void the suit on the claim of being in a wrong court adding that the complaints of Otedola were against alleged harassment, intimidation and acts of arbitrariness by the defendants while demanding for $3 million and not an attack on the Federal Government revenue or any of its agency which would have made it a case for a Federal High Court.

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